Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Vibrant culture and entertainment: Novi Bečej at the beginning of the 20th century
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Vibrant culture and entertainment: Novi Bečej at the beginning of the 20th century

The spiritual life of the people of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, alongside their economic foundation, has been influenced over the centuries by various political, religious, and other factors. Thanks to their economic power, which is a prerequisite and primary impetus for the development of superstructure where culture holds an important place, Novi Bečej and Vranjevo had exceptional conditions until the mid-nineteenth century.

At that time, Novi Bečej was the main market center for grain throughout the Monarchy. Vranjevo, soon after the establishment of the Velika Kikinda district, gained an exceptional position in the grain trade. Almost all surplus grain and corn from ten district villages were exported from Vranjevo, which were the largest villages in northern Banat. Vranjevo was the main granary of the district, where surplus grain was stored and sold to traders from Zemun, Brod, Sisak, Karlovac, Rijeka, and other regions of Croatia and Dalmatia.

Novi Bečej and Vranjevo also had craftsmen who took advantage of the convenient location to sell their products to traders who came with wagons for grain and corn. Traders who came for grain usually brought other goods to sell in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, thus becoming buyers of crafts from Banat for the needs of their regions.

Certainly, it is not negligible, as Vasa Stajić points out, that Velika Kikinda, as the seat of the District, could not play a proper role in the development of culture throughout its existence. He says, "Originally, it is an environment without its own city, these are villages without a cultural center within them. Velika Kikinda rose and developed very slowly and hesitantly until a workshop was created to produce spiritual values for the needs of the entire area. Being on the periphery of our national body, it not only had little participation in the creation of Serbian culture in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it was also a rather weak consumer of what was created in Novi Sad and Karlovci, and later especially in Belgrade."

This is all the more strange because Velika Kikinda, at that time, had the highest concentration of Serbs in Vojvodina. While Novi Sad had only 7,011 Serbs in 1846-47, Kikinda had 12,414, or in Subotica only 4,150, in Veliki Bečkerek 7,912, in Pančevo 7,780, in Sombor 11,289, in Novi Bečej with Vranjevo 7,844, etc.

Such a state of culture in the Velika Kikinda district influenced Vranjevo and its people not to wait for what would be done in the center of the District, in Kikinda, but to orient themselves to the most advanced in Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci, and Pančevo.

Thus, in Novi Bečej (1830), much earlier (fourteen years) than in Kikinda, a Serbian amateur theater company was established. In the Novi Bečej elementary school in 1758, there were twenty students, although at that time there were only 73 Serbian households in Novi Bečej, or together with Vranjevo 220 households, while Kikinda, with 300 households at that time, had 20 students, which also shows the population's attitude toward culture. Furthermore, the first Serbian theater was established in Vranjevo in 1860. From it, the Serbian National Theater in Novi Sad emerged in 1861, while Kikinda briefly had an amateur theater company in 1844-1845.

Vranjevo residents realized quite early that the times had passed when it was said, "It's better to have six horses in a cart than six schools in your head," so they actively sent their children to school at a time when few villages considered serious undertakings in education. These children of Vranjevo peasants quickly became the bearers of national thought and enlightenment in their new environment. They became close collaborators with prominent Serbs in cultural and political missions. They stood by Svetozar Miletić, Jovan Jovanović-Zmaj, and others. This friendship persisted even after completing their education and studies, so figures like Zmaj-Jovanović, Đura Jakšić, Svetozar Miletić, and other prominent Serbs of that time in Austria-Hungary visited Vranjevo.

Here's what others write about these Vranjevo schoolchildren, invited to give their opinions and judgments about their contemporaries.

Jovan Đorđević, a professor at the Belgrade Gymnasium and Faculty, and the Minister of Education of Serbia, writes about Mija Vlaškalić from Vranjevo:

"Mija Vlaškalić
This name may only be familiar to a few older readers. But even they might know only this much about him: that he was a small, slim, dark young man who was born in Banat, in Vranjevo, studied in Karlovac, Bratislava, and Prešov (Eperjes), worked as a landlord in Vranjevo for some time after the revolution, and died around 1853.
If one knows only this much about Mija Vlaškalić, then one knows very little about him. This is just Mija's skeleton, not him. Have you ever passed by a store with a modest sign and an even more modest display, but inside, shelves full of fine and expensive goods from top to bottom? Then we have a true picture of Mija Vlaškalić.
Always quiet and serious, he never stood out or flaunted himself anywhere. Through diligent reading, he acquired good knowledge, yet he never uttered a word in public. As a student, he could spend much more than his classmates, among whom he was considered a soft little miser; yet he lived modestly and poorly, like the rest of the common people, spending his saved money on his library, on the social reading room, and other useful youth projects, and mostly on supporting his poorer and more talented classmates, some of whom he practically supported himself.
That's who Mija Vlaškalić was ..."

Among Jovan Jovanović-Zmaj's schoolmates at the Lyceum in Pressburg (Bratislava) in 1851 were Serbian students: "Vladimir Glavaš, Petar Đakovački, Mladen Boberić, Milan Marbović, and Miloš Rajković — all from Vranjevo; Stevan Bošković and Aleksandar Kirilović from Bečej; Grigor Radulović from Tomaševac, Zarija Grujić from Alibunar, Đorđe Dobrojević from Šandor, Petar Kovačević from Beodra, Aleksa Šandrović from Temišvar, Ljuba Jovanović from Bečkerek, Todor Hadžić and Lazar Dunđerski (a well-known entrepreneur) from Srbobran, and Jovan Tolmaš from Šandor; — the last one is a rhetorician, the rest are philosophers. That year, our students at the lyceum attempted to revive the Serbian Society. Twenty Serbs and one Slovak (Vicenc Juriga) were registered as members. They were all among the previously mentioned students. Jovan Bošković is among them, but not Zmaj, "From this, one could conclude that Zmaj, after failing his graduation, did not stay long in Pressburg..."

"In Trnava, Zmaj took his graduation exam with Đorđe Jevremović from Kamenica, and with the aforementioned Dimitrije Dimitrijević and Uroš Maksimović, with whom he studied in Prague in 1856. From the aforementioned, Vladimir Glavaš was also in Prague with them..."

Jakov Ignjatović mentions Mija Vlaškalić several times in his Memoirs of the Great Rebellion of 1848-49 as an exceptionally honorable man. So on page 147, among other things, when talking about the National Assembly in Karlovci, he writes: "Here, gathered all the honest young men, Mija Vlaškalić from Banat, Ćira Radonić from Dalj..." or on page 204, when talking about the popularity of Svetozar Miletić among the youth: "I once asked Ilija Vujić and Mija Vlaškalić, with whom I lived well and who were tolerant, what is the reason for Miletić's popularity? ..." Mija is also mentioned on page 209 when he says of himself that the youth avoided him: "It is worth noting here from those legionaries, excluding Mija Vlaškalić, Ilija Vujić, and Radak, no one came into contact with me; I would say they deliberately avoided me."

They were not so modest and honorable only during their schooling or participation in the great rebellion of 1848-49, but remained so until the end of their lives, even though they came from the wealthiest families in Vranjevo. Their modesty and love for their homeland are also shown by the fact that despite the respect they enjoyed among their peers in Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, and Novi Sad, they all returned and lived in Vranjevo, helping their fellow citizens.

Mija Vlaškalić contented himself with being a municipal clerk and lawyer in Novi Bečej. The only thing recorded about him, besides entries in the birth and death registers of the village of Vranjevo, was the following text in the Chronicle of the Orthodox Church in Vranjevo:
"New Cemetery 1852. The first person buried there was the lawyer Mija Vlaškalić."

After graduating on October 30, 1862, from the Faculty of Law in Prague, and after completing his internship as a lawyer, Vladimir Glavaš opened a law office in Novi Bečej. As a lawyer, he worked for an extremely short time. He left the legal profession because it conflicted with his humane principles.

It is said that he led a case against a poor peasant from Vranjevo. When the case was won, to execute the judgment in favor of Glavaš's client, the poor man had to be evicted and his house sold at auction. Right after that case, he closed his law office and devoted himself to agriculture (farming), living from it in Vranjevo until the end of his life in 1909. He bequeathed a part of his property with a house to the Orthodox Church in Vranjevo, and he designated a corresponding land and monetary fund for the education of talented students from Vranjevo.

Glavaš was said to be peculiar but a very honest and humane person. He lent food to the poor: grain, corn, etc. As a rule, all those who took out a loan repaid the debt on time, but there were also those who "forgot" to do so. He did not cause any inconvenience to such people; instead, when they came back for another loan, he would take them to the empty warehouse and tell them to take what they needed. When the surprised borrower said, "How can I take when there's nothing in the warehouse!" Glavaš would quietly reply, "If you had returned what you took last time, there would be something now."

Thanks to the economic conditions in which Novi Bečej and Vranjevo developed until the mid-nineteenth century, with the concern of the inhabitants of these places for the education and cultural enlightenment of children, Novi Bečej and Vranjevo produced great figures in the field of culture, science, and art, such as Jovan Knežević, the founder of the first Serbian theater; Dr. Jene Sentklarai, a scientist and academic, corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and member of the Serbian Learned Society; Joca Savić, a great director - Shakespeare scholar and excellent theater educator in Munich; Josif Marinković, who continued the work, or rather brought to life the ideas of Kornelije Stanković and became in our music almost what Vuk Karadžić was for language and literature, or Ognjeslav Kostović, an inventor in the field of technical sciences, who can be considered the third Serbian after Tesla and Pupin in terms of contribution to technical sciences, and many other deserving workers not only in the field of culture and science in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo but also much wider.

Efforts for the development of culture and education were continuous until World War II. There was a striving to open a civic school that would prepare young people for the improvement of trade and crafts. With its opening in 1908, the opportunity was seized for some of the children of wealthier farmers to finish civic school, even if they remained in agriculture. It was understood that agriculture also requires an educated person. The aspiration for further educational development resulted in the opening of a full gymnasium in 1924.

Learning foreign languages: German and French, besides being mandatory subjects from the first to the fourth grade of elementary school, many families of intellectuals and richer merchants, especially Jews, hired private tutors for German and French. Among others, there were two unforgettable worthy teachers - elderly women, to whom many Novi Bečej residents owe their mastery of the French and German languages, Irena Đurković, the daughter of the famous cultural worker from Pančevo, Nikola Đurković. From 1897, after the death of her parents, Irena moved to her aunt's in Novi Bečej, and until her death in 1937, she gave German language lessons and piano lessons.

In addition to Irena, or as they called her in Bečej "Tante Irena", French and German lessons from 1925 until World War II, and even long after the war, were given by a Russian, Zadonska, or as everyone knew her - Madam.

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